Mapplethorpe–The Perfect Moment

Silkscreen paintings based on the title page of the catalogue for The Perfect Moment, the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition held at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Art Center in 1991 that led to the unsuccessful prosecution of Director Dennis Barrie on obscenity charges. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of that event the CAC organized the exhibition After The Moment, 2015-16, for which these works were made. 

Wall text for the work in the exhibition
The catalogue for The Perfect Moment was subject to police action along with the exhibition. CAC shop staff stood to be prosecuted if a minor viewed the catalogue images. I imagine the Cincinnati Vice Squad thumbing through it with prurient expectations and being rather surprised by the classic-looking title page. It’s an extremely conservative layout, centered side-to-side and top-to-bottom, while the typeface looks like the highly legible, if formal, Caslon, which was the only font tolerated by Janet Kardon on her arrival at the American Craft Museum in the early 90s when I was working there. Kardon was the curator behind the Mapplethorpe show that originated at Philadephia’s ICA. The page looks additionally pompous because of extra spaces inserted between words, presumably for dramatic emphasis—a bad typographical practice.

This stateliness of the title page is interfered with on my library copy by diagonal pencil lines that frame Mapplethorpe’s red-printed name. The names of the people who bought the book, and from whom the library acquired it, are also written in pencil at top right, as is the date of their visit—Friday, April 6, 1990—the opening day of the show.

The title page is the front door to the exhibition, a declaration of decency and order that assigns the artist the status of old master. I wanted to work against this sanitizing to try to restore something of the errant, controversial, and troubled Mapplethorpe. Lately I’ve been using black metal foil as the support for paintings of 70s punk rock lyrics and thought it might be worth printing on this material. I made a photo silkscreen of the title page in black and white, as well as making some on gold foil. I always intended to add a quote of Mapplethorpe’s but when I got them home I wasn’t sure that the prints didn’t look just fine without further intervention. In the end though I didn’t feel such reductivism really had much to do with the way I normally work and went ahead engraving Mapplethorpe’s words into the metal. I liked a couple of quotes I found. The hilarious “I don’t use recreational drugs, apart from cocaine, hallucinogens, and nitrates” was the first I tried out, but ended up settling for one that seemed even more mischievous and unexpected.